Monday, November 16, 2015

Book 5, Chapter 12: The Basilisk Orb

Kids today probably know about as much about Eldar Craftworlds

 as they do about M. A. Foster's Warriors of Dawn, but you takes your inspiration where you finds it, and I am not the one who invented Migdalar and made them suspiciously similar to the Tyrannids.

Book 5, Chapter 12: The Basilisk Orb

I, Charlotte thought, am in a space shuttle. In the 31st Century. And I am about to dock with a gigantic space dreadnought, and have a space battle, and it’s lame. Experimentally, she tried not to share her thoughts with the voice of the Worldnet global computer in her head, just to see what would happen.
Okay, Charlotte thought to herself. So that happened. Now, she directed her thoughts at the Worldnet. Why is this so lame?
[I don’t know? Because your guardians were very concerned that you kids would go wander off on your own and get lost in time and space? Because you arrived just when a space battle was about to happen? Earth is the capital of the Terran Republic, which is the largest state of the Galactic Federation. We don’t get a lot of space battles, and Rose tells me that there were “portents” saying that you needed to be here right now. I’m worried. So should you be. This could be serious. Plus, if it is serious, and you do help settle things, with any luck, it’ll take about an hour, and I’ll have you kids back in 2013 before your curfew expires. Means you guys don’t get to rock and roll all night and down the Line with all the aliens and the future people in the swingiest part of Millennium City, but your aunt would march up a thousand years and pull my positronic relays out with her bare hands if I let you get future-wasted. So, hey, win-win for me.]
You’re lame, Charlotte thought at Worldnet, picturing herself sticking her tongue out at it. How do I get you out of my head, by the way?
[You kids from a thousand years ago, with your baggy pants and your hippity hop music . . . Reset you’re your phone, and you’re good. Unless you want to swallow some nanos, in which case your lag will be less, and you can just think me out.]
Just the slightest bump, and the ComSolFleet’s personal barge docked with Omar the Just. Not even the first space-dreadnought Charlotte had been in. Idly, she wondered which one would win, Omar, or the nameless Drindrish not-a-Craftworld-because-then-she’d-have-to-pay-Games-Workshop-royalites.
A door irised open in the side of the barge, exposing a short corridor, like an airliner’s boarding passage, but somewhat more styling, with a shiny floor of gold stars picked out in royal blue that faded to an-almost rose colour at the edges that continued up the wall, blending into sky blue at the top.  
“It’s like walking through dawn,” Dora said.
“What a coinkidink!” Bruce said, sourly.
“Translate from dork elvish?” Dora askedI.
“It’s how the Three Stooges say ‘coincidence,’” Rose explained. “Because Bruce doesn’t actually think it’s a coincidence. I’m getting.”
“No. No, I do not,” Bruce answered. “After you?” He said, half-turning so that Charlotte could squeeze by, which she wouldn’t have needed to do if he wasn’t so darn big. At least Twelve was hanging back, she thought, as she brushed by him, touching lightly . . .
Oh, oh, Heavens, Charlotte thought, why can’t I focus on Scout right now?
“Don’t just stand there like a dumbass , dude. Haul it,” Dora whispered, loudly, behind her, as Charlotte came up against the door in the wall of the passage that was like the airlock, or whatever they had in the 31st Century instead.
The door opened. A tall guy stood in the space. He was kind of imposing, what with being completely outfitted in shiny space armour and all. “Hi, I’m Lieutenant Exposition, and I’m going to be your tagalong today.”
Charlotte put her hands to her hips and cocked her head. “Really? We need a babysitter? Also, the name? Hilarious. Not.”
“You seem a little excited, Redeeming Daughter. Yes, you do need a babysitter. At least, I assume. It’s not like you want to wander around the ship lost while we fight the squadron of assault craft that just exited hyperspace a lot closer to the Moon than is even supposed to be possible.”
“Fine!” Charlotte answered, wondering where, exactly, her manners had gone. Although she knew perfectly well. Stupid Bruce. “Is this the part where you offer us space armour and to take us to a safe place?”
“Shyeah, right. You’re not exactly the first Tatammy kids I’ve met, you know. Name’s Adam Morgan, and I’m Jamal’s handler.” Lieutenant Morgan paused and held out what looked like a stack of folded recycling bags. “These rebreather-seals will mate with your fatigues, and let you use your powers in vacuum if you need. Now, about that safe place?”
“I don’t think so,” Charlotte said. “Team, is this all a bit weird?”
“Oh, sure,” Bruce said. “Attacking a dreadnought off Earth in lunar orbit? Either these folks are so tough they don’t give a damn, or this is some kind of bait-and-switch.”
“Hunh,” Rose said. “I just read a book where a dreadnought gets taken out by a small ship, right in the middle of the solar system in broad . . .You know, it’s space. Everyone can see you for forever.”
“Yeah, read it, too. It’s stupid. Even if it did win a Hugo. Lieutenant, this ship wouldn’t be carrying something for Fortress One, would it? Because I don’t exactly know a lot about the 31st Century, but I do know that you’ve got the Basilisk Orb there.”
“Actually,” the Lieutenant said, “We are. Turakian Age artefact the FSP took from a collector on  Venwordien IV. Our best people say it’s not magical, but when it comes to old magic, our best people are talking out their asses.”
Charlotte gave Lieutenant Morgan a long stare. “Hey, like I said,” he protested. “I’m Jamal’s handler. I’m all hep to your Twenty-First Century lingo, cat.”
“It’s not that,” Charlotte said, shocked that even in this clean room, another thousand years from the days of Kal-Turak, his name still set the dust of the earth calling, in the still, obscene voices of the dead, for its King. “That name has power. Old Red Aeon.”
Morgan gave her an okay, like, whatever look. “Tac net says that we’ve blown up half the assault craft, should have the rest mopped up shortly.”
“Gonna go out on a limb here and guess we’re about to hear about boarding parties away, though,” Bruce said.
Lieutenant Morgan looked at Bruce. “Do you have any idea of the million ways that’s impossible? This is space war. Do you even have high school physics yet? I. .. “ His voice faded away. Apparently, he was getting bad news from the ship.
“So,” Bruce said. “Boarding parties headed for what? Bridge? Engines?”
“CIC, actually,” Morgan whispered, in a strangled voice. “And engines. And the antimatter magazines. They’re. . . they’re manoeuvring. IN space. With no reaction drives. And no power signatures!”
“How good are you guys at boarding party combat?” Charlotte asked.
“We’re not. But there’s plenty of other reasons to carry marines, and we have more techno-organic avatars like Jamil. We can fight, and more marines are inbound, from the Moon.”
“Which explains the all the diversions,” Charlotte concluded. “Now, how do we get to this relic of Kilburn you’re carrying?”
Lieutenant Morgan looked at her. “Okay, I take some of it back. You kids do have a clue. This way.”
In a moment, they were running down the metal corridors of the spaceship. Except for the lack of rude statues of naked people, Charlotte was reminded, again, of the Drindrish world ship. Dora and Twelve led, cloaked in their respective auras.
Just as well, when they turned the last corridor and were suddenly blown back, violet glare and whizzing slugs breaking over the golden aura of the needfire, and the crackling Kirby dots of Twelve’s Empyrean shields.
Rose flickered in place. “Holy crap,” she said. They’ve got some kind of machine gun-thingie with a forcefield sited to cover the corridor. I’m not sure I could take it out. They’re. . . “
“That’s it,” Lieutenant Morgan said. “We’re going up and over.”
The roof disappeared, and they were looking up at the stars. Charlotte raised her Eight Spirit Dragon shield, drew the Pearl Harmony Sword, and jumped up, expecting to land on the outside hull of Omar the Just.
Which she did. Not the amazing thing, though. In near space, familiar, purplish-black things came swimming through the void. And, clinging to the hull of the ship with powerful, too-few-fingered limbs, their blunt and headless shoulders pointed towards her like monstrous dogs, were more.
“—They’re Migdalar!” Rose finished.
Weapons were being readied at her sudden arrival, Charlotte noted, taking account of the movement, guessing the arcs, tensing, ready to go.
“Presto, invisible,” came Brian’s voice, now echoing in her tactical headpieces. “Ranged guys?”
“On it,” Bruce said. Charlotte peaked over her shoulder. Bruce had come up on the hull, and was holding future-y guns in both hands.
“I thought you had something against guns?” Charlote asked.
“When have I ever said that? You’re getting me confused with Grand-Dad’s fanfic. And even there, Batman sometimes carries guns—“
“Wanker,” Dora muttered.
“He does! And it’s not just Frank Miller!”
“Not what I meant. Now go, Char-Char!”
Charlotte didn’t need more urging. Gravity still existed, pointing down, so she wasn’t going to have to improvise zero-G kung fu. It was just good old, real kung fu.
The nearest Migdalar couldn’t see her coming, and with her psi-screen, probably couldn’t use telepathy to detect her, either, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t know something was probably coming at  him. There just wasn’t much he could do about it, pinned down by Bruce and Dora’s fire.
Feeling a sick sense of pity, in spite of all the various ways Migdalar were nasty, Charlotte settled for kicking his feet out from under him and throwing him skyward, followed by the rest of his gun crew. More purple-black figures floated spaceward to her right, because apparently Rose was having the same qualms.
In the middle, though, Twelve more straightforwardly just ploughed into his targets. Under the explosive propulsion of his Empyrean fists, however, the effect was the same.
Meanwhile, invisibility can only last so long when you’re actually hitting people. The next nest of Migdalar, at one moment crouched over some kind of device planted against the hull, were, at the next, scattering away from the flashing Pearl Harmony Sword.
Charlotte was still making her mind up to use its razor-sharp edge on living beings when the sky above lit up, suddenly. Apparently, Omar’s point defences were perfectly well up to disintegrating Migdalar floating, gravity-less, above the hull.
Sick at herself, Charlotte swept the Pearl Harmony in practiced killing strokes, slightly improvised by the Migdalar lack of heads to chop off. Black blood spurted, and her targets were done. One, two, three nests, gone in seconds, and twenty Migdalar warriors who would never go back to their Moms. Or their Aunties. If they had Moms or Aunties.
Now for the next. And, please, Charlotte thought. Let there be no more.
Her prayers were answered. No more crawling, headless bodies on the hull of the battleship, no more in the sky above. Only un-Earthly devices, scattered here and there across the hull.
“Don’t worry about the breaching devices,” Morgan yelled. “they’re not operational. Worry about the ones that’ve got through!”
True, that. Charlotte assumed that the Migdalar plan was one of those things where you secretly put a tracing device, or, no, that wouldn’t work, maybe a teleportation gate, on something that’s being taken to be with the thing you actually want to steal. From the tiny amount the team actually knew about the Thirty-First Century, the big Macguffin was the Basilisk Orb, and the relic of Kilburn was just the thing that would carry the thing into its presence so that the villains could heist the big thing.
It made sense. It was the plot of a million heist movies, and if that was what the Migdalar were trying to accomplish, their plan was already hosed.
But if it wasn’t? Then they had to make sure that the Migdalar didn’t take out Omar the Just, or steal the relic, whatever it was –or accomplish any of the million other plans they could be working on.
Charlotte hopped through the one hole the Migdalar had managed to cut in the hull. She was in a corridor exactly like the one she’d just left, with no sign of their space-machine gun, unless what looked like a scorch on the paint at the corner where the corridor met a cross-passage ahead counted.
Oh. And there was a big freaking hole in the floor, because the Migdalar gave exactly zero . . . things . . .  about other people’s property.
Charlotte hopped through it, shield up. Which was a good thing, because even though it gave almost immediately, the tiny bity of deflection meant that she took the shiny head of the Migdalar’s axe on its side, and not its edge.
“Daddy?” Charlotte was amazed at the word torn from her mouth by the experience of being hit on the head, which, as usual with head blows, was so far beyond pain as to live in the next country over, the one full of disconnected images and shocking separations and random memories. . .
Get your head in the game, Char-Char, she thought to herself as she brought up her sword in guard, then shifted into a stop thrust as she realised that her foe was still trying to wrestle his axe back into fighting position after the off-kilter impact.
Serves you right for fighting with an axe, she thought, as black blood spurted around her. Memo to brain-eating monsters, Charlotte thought. I’m not a tree, I’m a girl!
One down. Unfortunately, the corridor was full of more Migdalar with space-axes. A lot more Migdalar, and these ones were all shiny with forcefiled. And then there was the  missing machine-gunny thing, which was missing no longer, and instead pointing up through the hole in the ceiling.
“So I’m going to have to take you alone?” Charlotte hissed at the Migdalar. “Seems fair.”

A shiny axe went flying by, just above Charlotte’s head. “Not exactly alone,” Bruce said. “Invisibility, remember?” 

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